Archive for July, 2012

I work in a small business. One of my colleagues is constantly late for meetings, which holds up the rest of us. As she enters the room and is late as usual, she always says, “Please forgive me for being late.” I don’t quite know what to do with this. Any suggestions?

This seems to be an issue of justice more than an issue of forgiveness. Your colleague seems to equate forgiving with just letting something go. She may be using this view of forgiveness as a way of not changing her own behavior. Because the behavior (lateness to meetings) is disruptive, then this issue needs to be addressed through proper channels and in an appropriate way.

Whether or not your colleagues or you need to forgive her is a different matter. Is her behavior causing resentment? If so, then your forgiving is reasonable. If her behavior is merely annoying, then correcting the behavior may take care of the annoyance and so there will be nothing to forgive.

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Why Forgive if the Other Is Not Likely to Change?

People sometimes feel discouraged when the other person continues to act unjustly despite your best efforts to forgive. Forgiveness as a virtue is for the good of the other whom you forgive and so if he or she is not receiving your goodness, why continue? An assumption behind the question is that the other will never change because of the forgiveness, but you do not know that. A seed of love planted today could have an effect on the person years from now.

But, you may ask, “I may never see the fruit of my forgiveness.” The answer, with a gentle reminder that forgiveness is for the other person, is this: It does not matter if you are there or not to see the result. The forgiveness task is to be loving. If the other can grow from that love, then you have done something wonderful for him or her. Even if the other refuses your gift, you have given a gift nonetheless. You have given love in a world that too often is devoid of it. You again have done something wonderful because love is an end in and of itself as well as a means to the end of transforming the world through the action of love.

R.E.

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I am a single mother of a five-year-old autistic child. She has a tendency to scream unexpectedly when we are in public places. Just yesterday, she let out such a loud one in a department store that all within ear-shot stopped and stared. It can be so embarrassing. Do you recommend that I forgive my daughter under these painful circumstances?

Yours is a fascinating question because it raises a further question: What is the nature of wrong-doing. Let us first discuss that and then turn to your question. I want to examine the issue of wrong-doing first because forgiveness takes place in the context of another’s (or others’) wrong-doing. If we find no wrong-doing on the part of your daughter, then forgiveness would not be recommended.

For something to be morally wrong, we need to examine three issues: the act itself, one’s intentions in performing the act, and the circumstances surrounding the act.

The act itself of yelling out in a public place is not wrong when, for example, a person is being robbed. That circumstance of robbery makes the act of yelling good because it may prevent the wrong-doing of robbery. Thus, yelling in a public forum is not, by itself, an unjust act.

Your daughter’s intentions are not likely to be morally wrong. Given her autism, we can induce that she is not trying to cause trouble by embarrassing you or by harassing customers in the store. Her intentions are likely a response to something uncomfortable within her or it could be some kind of a conditioned response to something in the environment of which you are unaware. Thus, it seems reasonable to conclude that your daughter’s intentions are not morally wrong.

The circumstances, of being in a crowded store, do suggest decorum, but again we have to factor in the circumstance of your daughter’s autism. Her autism is likely to contribute to her behavior much more strongly than norms of conduct in public places.

When we examine the act itself, intentions, and circumstance, it is clear that your daughter has not engaged in wrong-doing. Thus, I would not recommend that you forgive. Instead, I recommend that you understand her action in the context discussed above. You might consider practicing acceptance (for now) of her actions that embarrass you (as you have stated). Further, you might take steps, through behavior modification techniques, to condition her behavior toward not yelling in public places by rewarding her for quieter behavior when in such places.

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A Forgiving Tree

New York Daily News. Hip-hop artist and art curator Derrick Harden helped to plant a tree in Brooklyn, New York, where his sister was killed by her boyfriend. The incident happened 20 years ago. Last January he accidentally came across the man responsible for his sister’s death. The tree, a symbol of forgiveness, was planted in January and last week Derrick went back with his family members to place a plaque on the tree. “I believe in forgiveness,” he said.

Changing things for the better is why Derrick Harden earlier this year joined the “Buds” committee of the New York Restoration Project, to plant an Upright Hornbeam tree in front of the McCleods Community Garden in the Howard projects in his sister’s honor.

“I just believe that being positive you can do anything,” Harden said. “I don’t believe in mistakes, I believe in forgiveness. I believe people grow, and these beliefs probably bring good things to me.”

Full story here.

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